My Dementia Diary 65 – A Caregiver’s Vacation

There were times when I missed her terribly, then exhaustion surrounded me and I slept. I slept without having to get up during the night to help her find the bathroom. I slept without thinking about how we were going to get through the next day. I slept knowing that someone else was caring for my wife and I could finally rest.

And so passed a week away with a friend, a week when our kids traveled from other countries to care for their mother and her dementia and give me a much needed break.

I didn’t realize how worn out I was until I awoke after one day away, shuffled to the dining table, and heard my friend say, “man, you look really tired.”

I was.

It had crept up on me like an unseen fog, surrounded me during the previous weeks and months. I knew it was there but I couldn’t call it out. I was my wife’s caregiver, she needed me, and our kids, lived in other worlds far away. But one day, when I blew up over some triviality, I knew I’d hit the “help needed” mark. I asked, the kids came, and I made my getaway.

I’m just one of over 15 million Americans who are caring for the estimated 5 million persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, all of us dealing with the emotional, mental, physical and financial stress of caring for someone whose mind is deteriorating in front of us.

We all need help. We all need a caregiver’s vacation.

I certainly did.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 64 – Holding Hands

we have reached a place
where holding hands
is a pleasure
beyond orgasm

we have become
an incalculable oneness

after miles
years
of laughing, loving, sharing
a life together
I reach
expect
her soft, strong, tender fingers
to entwine with mine

my heart banishes all thoughts
that one day her hand
will not be there

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 63 – Awkwardness

On our daily walks, she greets everyone with a smile and “good morning!” She is even more exuberant with children and babies in strollers, stooping to wave at them and babble excitedly in a combination of Spanish, English, and otherwise unintelligible, but happy,  sounds. 

The response is mixed. Most return the exuberant greetings, but some respond with silence. I can hear their minds whirring.

“Who is this crazy woman?”

I’m sure the awkwardness is not helped by my presence nearby, a blind guy poking about with a white cane.

Although most kids are understandably shy when confronted by strangers, my wife’s wholehearted delight in meting them usually melts their fears away and she often ends up slapping hands with  high fives before we go our separate ways.

And I’m reminded to let go any fears of embarrassment and simply enjoy life in the company of an angel.

tio stib

You might also enjoy: My Dementia Diary 53 – The Walk to Paradise Garden, My Dementia Diary

 

My Dementia Diary 61 – Back to Beginnings

I’ve been loved before, been involved intimately with other women, women with good hearts who cared for me. But I couldn’t let them in. Immaturity, insecurity, ego, fear, the stress of too much or too little work, etc., etc., excuses.

Or, to put it bluntly, it took me along time to grow up.

Yes, there were the other extremes, the women I did open up to, loved big, but still we failed. They were on their own journeys and our souls could not balance on the scales of love.

And so went my life lessons in loving, from ecstasy to despair, until I finally met her, my wife. Perhaps it was love at first sight, but it took time to melt through the layers of fear we’d accumulated to protect our hearts from pain.

Or, to put it simply, we grew back to being the children of love we are

Now, each day is a new beginning.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 59 – Growing Down

 

“Oh, what a cute baby!”

If you, like me, have been blessed with baby experiences, you’ve often heard this phrase, or even uttered it yourself.

“Oh, what a cute corpse!”

Bet you haven’t heard that one though.

With too much time to think lately, it occurs to me that life’s two extremes, birth and death, get vastly different types of coverage.

Growing up is much more popular than growing down.

Consider the many different options for how to have a baby, from home births to dropping the newborn into a pool of water, then the  countless ways to approach and deal with the phases of child development. Of course, the celebrations of “firsts,” the first word, “dada,” (or was that “dodo?”), the first step, then walking, running, and on to the first day of school and driving a car.

Why do you think there isn’t the same attention and celebration paid to the steps in the death of a demented person?

“Oh, wow, can you believe it, mom just started babbling.”

“Oops, he doesn’t remember our names anymore, let’s have a beer.”

“Ewww, Mom didn’t find the toilet this morning.”

No, folks don’t pay nearly as much attention to growing down as they do to growing up.

Seems staring mortality in the face is scary.

tio stib

You might also enjoy: My Dementia Diary 25 – Life in Reverse, My Dementia Diary

 

My Dementia Diary 57 – Healthy & Happy

 

I was once obsessed with lists. I would rise long before the sun to be at work by 5:30 a.m.. Fueled by a cup of hot chocolate, I’d dive into my “things to do,” twenty was not a daunting number, before the rest of the office arrived at 7”30. Focused and disciplined, I checked off my cumulative responsibilities one by one.

I admit to a supreme sense of satisfaction on those days when I managed to complete these tasks before the “good mornings!” of fellow workers turned the rest of the day into chaos.

Was I really so wrapped up in being dutifully responsible that I sacrificed having any sort of other life?

Seems so. I do remember moments during that time when I dreamed of sleeping in, fantasized about a day with nothing to do, no budgets to balance, no employees to guide, no monthly reports to issue. 

As the wise man said, “careful what you wish for.”

My career path has veered from architect to caregiver. There are no staff to manage, no urgent tasks to accomplish, no reason at all to get up at 5:30 in the morning.

Except when my wife needs help finding the bathroom

the multiple item “to do” list has disappeared. The day has been reduced to two priorities-

Healthy and happy.

that’s my daily work, keep my wife healthy and happy.

Has a delightfully simple  ring to it, don’t you think?

tio stib

You might also enjoy:My Dementia Diary 49 – Happiness, My Dementia Diary

 

My Dementia Diary 55 – Socially Starving

I’m with my wife 24/7, all day, every day, all the time. I never paid any attention to our relationship reality when her mind was healthy and I could see. Being together was a constant treat, always new adventures to share, things to do together. 

And, we could talk, share ideas, questions, and breathe together in awe at a stunning sunset.

As much as we enjoyed each other, we were always organizing get-togethers with family and friends. We could drive, so making connections was easy. We were both functional, making shared meals with others  a simple thing to do at our place.

For a short time, our life was a wonderful balance of precious times together and special moments with others.

Such times are past. Our range of life options has collapsed. My wife’s dementia and my blindness have shrunk our social activities significantly. We no longer drive, so getting out to visit folks beyond our walking radius doesn’t happens unless someone comes for us. This occurs less and less, as I suppose, for most, that socializing with a demented woman and a blind guy is, at best, awkward.

Fortunately, my wife enjoys video calls with our kids, which they are considerate enough to make often. But, as any sort of intellectual, rational conversation is no longer possible with my wife, I find myself craving social contact.

Even though we rarely meet anyone at our local coffeehouse, we visit regularly just so I can hear the drone of other human voices, be near conversations, get vicarious pleasure from being in the middle of people living regular lives.

Slowly, I’m socially starving.

tio stib

You might also enjoy: My Dementia Diary 45 – A Different River, My Dementia Diary

 

My Dementia Diary 53 – The Walk to Paradise Garden

In 1946, W. Eugene Smith, a photo journalist who had been severely wounded in the latter days of World War II, was recovering at home, depressed and wondering if he’d ever pick up a camera again. On a quiet Spring day, he noticed his two young children, Pat and Juanita, walking outside in the garden. He followed them and the photo he took has comforted and inspired millions, including me.

I can no longer see this picture, but it is vividly etched in my memory, an image I often recall as my wife and I walk, hand in hand, discovering the delights of our small town world.

The Walk to Paradise Garden.jpg

“The Walk to Paradise Garden,” copyright W. Eugene Smith, Time/Life, Getty Images

tio stib

You might also enjoy: My dementia Diary 6 – A Shared Life, My Dementia Diary

My Dementia Diary 52 – Drowning in Sadness

Because my wife’s dementia is deteriorating slowly, there are times when I forget it is happening at all. then, she says something-

“Do you have a wife?”

We were making breakfast when this question came up. My heart froze.

“Do you have a wife” she asked again.

I hugged her close and whispered, “you are my wife. You will always be my wife.”

“Of course,” she answered, kissing my cheek.

I am drowning in sadness.

tio stib

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Husband and Wife

in the beginning
we knew not where we were going
only
that we were going together

husband and wife

how can you know what that means
when dreams are blinding
when youth is fearless
when life is forever

we skipped down the yellow brick road
not a cloud in the sky
worries past by
lost
in our bubble of love

came curves and surprises
unexpected compromises
failures and broken words
a gathering of differences

darkening days

the same choice
again and again

husband and wife?

the same answer
again and again

husband and wife

two words now one

tio stib

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